Real Leadership in a Time of Crisis

March 20, 2019

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, is demonstrating what real leaders do in a time of crisis. The deadly attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead last week in Christchurch was a horrendous example of the rise of terrorism—specifically white supremacism—around the world. And Ardern is responding in a way that serves as a role model for real leadership.

Though she has been in office less than 18 months and earned mixed reviews over how she’s handled the job overall, on crisis management, Ardern is demonstrating great leadership.

The 38-year-old came into office as part of a wave of progressive, young leaders that include France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. The Jacindamania surrounding her political rise inspired New Zealand’s people to participate politically and follow her lead as citizens.

“Ms. Ardern is emerging as the definitive progressive antithesis to the crowded field of right-wing strongmen like President Trump, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Narendra Modi of India, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” wrote journalist Sushil Aaron in the New York Times op-ed Why Jacinda Ardern Matters.

Her courage played out immediately by standing up to the hateful act in a way seldom seen by many of our current world leaders. She took an important stand in refusing to mention the shooter’s name and deny him the very recognition he sought from this despicable act. Surprisingly, much of the media has followed her lead.

With just 5 million citizens, today nearly one in four Kiwis own a gun. That could change as early as next week when Ardern is expected to unveil proposals to reform gun laws in response to the attack. Though the country doesn’t have the equivalent of a Second Amendment protecting gun rights nor a National Rifle Association lobby for them, she is not backing down to the likely opposition she will face.

In a news conference she said the attack had not happened because their country was a safe harbor for hate, or racism or extremism.

“We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things,” she said. “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

She demonstrated compassion not only in her statements but in her actions, such as wearing a black scarf when she comforted families of the victims—despite the negative reaction from many Western countries regarding Muslim women’s headgear.

Ardern said President Trump called to offer condolences and asked what support the United States could offer New Zealand.

“Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” she told him. Ardern recognizes that thoughts and prayers will do her country nothing more than it does in the United States after a mass shooting.

This young leader from a tiny country in the South Pacific is demonstrating the kind of courageous and compassionate leadership that is necessary in both business and politics. Will Kiwis respond by adopting gun regulations to prevent further tragedies? Will people around the world respond by demonstrating compassion and respect for those of the Muslim faith?

Ardern is combating bigotry and hatred that requires more than greater gun regulation and law enforcement. She is also focusing on addressing the cultural change necessary to confront our social divisions. And this will take time and patience.

Let’s demand the kind of courage and compassion Ardern is modelling from all our leaders in business and politics.

Saving the Planet Through Behavioral Change

March 7, 2019

Changing one’s behavior is hard and it is often necessary. This is true whether you want to become a more effective leader or help save the planet. But before you take action, you must first answer the questions: what, why and how.

In my line of work as an executive coach, I help clients tweak certain behaviors that may undermine their overall effectiveness. This requires identifying what those behaviors are, why it is important to change them, and finally provide guidance on how to change them.

Determining what behaviors are holding people back is often revealed through 360 feedback surveys or interviews and using cognitive assessments. Once clients understand what it is that’s holding them back, they can begin to address it.

Explaining the why change is necessary is vitally important, since people often get entrenched in their behaviors and may defend them as “that’s just the way I am.” However, as Marshall Goldsmith states in the title of his best-selling book, what got you here, won’t get you there. Fully embracing why certain behaviors are hampering overall leadership is the most critical element in someone accepting and following through on implementing the change that is necessary.

When I think about what’s holding back necessary behavioral change needed to tackle climate change, so much of this is wrapped around the lack of a compelling answer to why. And people need a compelling reason to change behaviors.

The what question is continually answered all around us, although I fully acknowledge many skeptics remain. Perhaps a compelling answer to why will never convince some of them.

However, the reason most people have not yet accepted why it’s important to act on climate change is because any discussion tends to focus on the how rather than the why. Corporations claim that the regulation necessary to reduce carbon will strangle their profitability and require higher prices on consumers. Politicians (influenced by special interests and their lobbyists) are concerned with this and, of course, any notion that it will cost jobs.

Until someone is able to convincingly explain why it is important for us to act on climate change now in a way that motivates and inspires the majority of citizens, little progress will be made. This is especially challenging because, like the proverbial frog in a pot of water set to boil, we won’t see the urgency until it may be too late.

Organizations that clearly articulate a why that resonates have the potential to inspire employees to give their best, customers to purchase products and services, and shareholders to invest, according to Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why. Think of companies like Apple, Southwest Airlines and Harley-Davidson—all three have a compelling why.

When global citizens are presented with a compelling answer for why we should act on climate change now, we can then shift to how this can be accomplished most effectively. This how will require behavioral changes such as consuming less, recycling more, choosing clean energy alternatives over fossil fuels, holding elected politicians accountable, and many more.

Of course, individual actions by citizens of the world won’t make much of a dent in the challenge of climate change until government policies and corporate actions are aligned with these efforts. But governments and corporations rely upon voters and consumers, and we as individuals can influence their actions through our votes and our consumption.

When you understand what needs to change, have a compelling why it’s necessary, and see how to do it, behavioral change can happen. This is true in your growth as a leader or your help saving the planet.

Civility and Leadership Fundamentals

February 9, 2019

Despite the lack of civil discourse in these partisan times, we all have a choice as to how we show up in our communities and workplaces. We can either accept that this incivility is the new normal and that there’s nothing to be done, or we can actively behave in a more conciliatory and compassionate manner.

Leading with principals such as integrity, honesty, compassion, courage, accountability and vulnerability is unfortunately absent in many of our current leaders in both business and politics.

But this doesn’t mean we have to follow their example. Instead, we can choose to model the behaviors we expect in them and hold them accountable to follow our lead. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, be the change you wish to see in others.

Regardless of where you’re situated in the org chart of your organization, you can demonstrate leadership fundamentals. This has nothing to do with the number of people reporting to you or the number of followers you have. Leaders are found throughout our communities and workplaces, though they may not appear so on the surface.

Real leaders are the people who bring about the best in others. They motivate and inspire others. They bring about positive change. They hold themselves accountable. And they grow other leaders.

When you model these leadership fundamentals in your community or workplace, you will be seen as someone who is respected and can be relied upon. You will be seen as a real leader and not someone who was merely hired, promoted or voted into such a position. Real leadership is not appointed but earned.

You can also choose to hold accountable those leaders who have been hired, promoted or voted into such a position. This means deliberately choosing to work only for leaders you admire and respect. It means actively supporting and promoting the real leaders into acknowledged positions of authority. And it means actively supporting and voting for only the candidates who demonstrate the leadership fundamentals that you believe in.

Sitting on the sidelines, playing the victim, or remaining apathetic is not acceptable. If you are unhappy with your situation in your community or workplace, it is up to you to do something about it. A passive approach results in the status quo.

If you could only take one step today, I urge you to learn to be kinder and more compassionate to other people. It takes very little to do this, and you will be part of the change I suspect you wish to see in the world. This can be as little as:

  • Use a turn signal well before you reach the intersection where you intend to turn.
  • Hold the door open for the person behind you when entering a building.
  • Have a meaningful face-to-face conversation rather than merely a text exchange.
  • Assume the best when you receive an email message that could be perceived otherwise.
  • Look up from your phone, take out your earbuds, and make eye contact.
  • Listen to others with your full and undivided attention in order to be fully present.

These small steps will slowly help return civility to our society and will reflect well on you. I suspect you also begin to feel better about yourself as you become more active in helping to bring about the positive change you want to see in others.

When you model respectful civil discourse and leadership fundamentals in your own behavior, you are more likely to encourage others to do so. You are more likely be respected and seen as a real leader. And you will be a part of the solution rather than a continuation of the problem.

Lead with Your Intentions

January 9, 2019

Poor communication is the reason for many misunderstandings. This can be due to the person sending the message, the one receiving it, or both sender and receiver. As a leader, to send an effective message, you need to begin by making your intentions clear.

That’s because when you lead with intention, your message is immensely easier to understand. You are stating what you want. You are being direct. And you are being clear.

It’s important when speaking in any conversation to first understand what it is you want. Are you seeking to inform, persuade, disagree, motivate, entertain, or something else? By identifying what it is you want and making this immediately clear to the other person, you are more likely to gain better understanding.

Think about the importance of the words in the subject line of an email message. It can often be the difference between whether the actual message ever gets read or not.

In order to lead with your intentions, you need to alert the receiver of what’s coming. Think of it like the headline in a newspaper article. Or the old adage regarding effective presentations: 1) tell them what you are going to talk about, 2) tell them about it, and 3) tell them what you just told them. Begin with end in mind, as Stephen Covey wrote.

Leading with your intentions means you are able to develop a stronger commitment to move out of your comfort zone. And this, of course, is where the real growth and opportunities begin.

In a recent Forbes magazine article, author Alan Trivedi discusses being mechanical (machine-like, and uninfluenced by the mind or emotions) versus intentional (open-minded regarding ideas and influence) with regard to hearing/listening, seeing/observing, doing/practicing, remembering/reflecting. Intentionality is more active than passive and inevitably leads to new possibilities.

This intentionality also requires that you are in touch with yourself and with what is true for you. It is integral to showing up effectively in the workplace. And finding your inner truths and leading with them are essential to effective leadership, according to Melissa Williams-Gurian in her book How Do You Want To Show Up?

“Every step you can take toward addressing what is true for you directly, rather than indirectly, helps you gain in power and self-confidence,” writes Williams-Gurian. “And the closer you can get to doing that in the moment rather than a week or a month later, the more effective it will be.”

Authenticity is inherently a part of showing up and leading with intention. By embracing who you are and courageously stepping into the vulnerability this requires, means you are able to show up in an authentic manner.

Leading with your intentions means you are able to communicate more effectively and reduce the number of misunderstandings. You demonstrate more commitment to getting outside of your comfort zone, which enables further possibilities. And the authenticity you demonstrate creates greater trust and engagement. All of which demonstrates effective leadership.

Workplace Engagement Follows Appreciation

December 21, 2018

Workplace Engagement Follows Appreciation

Here at the end of another year, my family and I will express and literally record statements of love and appreciation for each other in what has become an annual tradition. This simple exercise compiles what we appreciate about and wish for each other in the coming year—something started nearly ten years ago in order to strengthen the bonds of a blended family.

I now see this act of acknowledging in public (at least within the immediate family) our feelings for each other has helped normalize the expression of appreciation. While this is extremely important in families, I contend there should be a lot more appreciation expressed in the workplace because this will lead to greater engagement.

Though many workplaces today are more open to encourage increased interaction and engagement, this alteration of the environment is not nearly enough.

Fact is most of us are motivated and engaged only when we feel appreciated in a way that is both accurate and personal. And simply throwing a holiday party where the boss says some words of overall appreciation—while important—is not nearly enough.

If every supervisor, manager, director and senior executive were to vocalize what they honestly and personally appreciate about each of those who report to them, I suspect this would increase overall productivity and sustainable engagement.

Perhaps you’re thinking that because you don’t get this kind of appreciation from your own supervisor, you shouldn’t offer it to others. This type of thinking only contributes to why so many people feel depleted and unmotivated at work.

Sharing appreciation for another person doesn’t cost you anything. What it demonstrates is your awareness of the value another person provides and your own vulnerability, which enables greater emotional connection.

Often times the deciding factor for why people stay on a job or look elsewhere has to do with whether they feel an emotional connection with leaders. Those who are able to show vulnerability demonstrate honesty, openness and authentic leadership. Employees then feel more connected and are less likely to move on, even for more money or benefits.

No matter your position in the organization, expressing gratitude for others will elevate your aptitude for leadership in their eyes. You will distinguish yourself from others and likely build an engaged group of followers.

If your organization is looking for the simplest, cheapest and best way to increase engagement, look no further than the expression of honest and personal appreciation. And while doing this at the end of annual performance reviews is valuable, it can be much more meaningful if it is done more frequently and when it is unexpected.

Now that my kids are all teenagers, their expressions of appreciation for each other has moved from the simple and often funny to more heartfelt and moving. What I appreciate most is that they don’t always wait until the end of the year to express these feelings.

Demanding Jobs with Little Agency

November 8, 2018

The World Health Organization reports that the United States is among the most anxious nations on the planet. Our current political climate certainly contributes to this distinction, but much of our stress stems from feeling a lack of agency on the job.

Agency is the capacity to act independently and make our own free choices. This sense of agency is tightly connected to a sense of ownership. If we feel a lack of agency on the job, it can show up as not being fully engaged, holding back on challenging assumptions, and withholding the important creativity and problem-solving abilities we were hired to demonstrate.

Increased anxiety and stress are huge problems for businesses and the government. According to the American Institute of Stress, U.S. industries lose nearly $300 billion a year—or $7,500 per worker—in employee absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover and direct medical, legal and insurance fees related to workplace stress.

“While it may seem obvious that hard-charging white-collar workers are under stress, studies show that blue-collar workers—line cooks, factory workers, practical nurses—are even more vulnerable,” according to Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and its Future in a Time of Radical Change. “This is because of what Ofer Sharone describes as the toxic confluence of high demand for their efforts and low control over their working lives.”

This high demand for ever-increasing productivity in a 24/7 always-on workplace combined with little control and freedom over the tasks makes for an unhealthy environment.

“Demanding jobs do not necessarily make us sick, but demanding jobs that give us no agency over what we do or the way we do it are quite likely to,” says Shell. “For growing numbers of Americans—no matter how successful—these pressures have transformed work from a source of satisfaction and pride to an anxiety-ridden bout of shadowboxing.”

So how much of this lack of agency should be blamed on the employer and how much on the employee? This is not easy to answer, but clearly there is responsibility in both.

Leaders and managers in organizations need to consider how much freedom and control they actually provide individual employees. For example, is the task well-defined with a clear understanding of what the deliverable should look like and when it should be completed? Yes. But are the steps regarding how it should be completed and delivered also predetermined yet perhaps not clearly communicated? This can undermine agency.

And how much overall tolerance is there for risk taking and trying things in a different way? If you find yourself hearing (or saying) “That’s not how we do things here,” you may find little tolerance in your organization, and this lack of tolerance also undermines agency.

Employees also have a role and they need to consider when and how to step into agency—even when they may not feel they have the right to do so. Obviously, when you’re new to the job, it’s important to first understand the established rules, norms, values and organizational culture before you can fully express agency. Many of these may actually be the culprit.

Demonstrating agency means taking responsibility and ownership when it’s clear no one else has and yet needs to happen. It means pushing back on standard operating procedures when you see the faults, have a better solution and know how to communicate and implement it. And it means requesting more control or freedom over the work when you can provide clear and compelling benefits. These not only demonstrate agency, but also leadership potential.

It often takes courage to demonstrate agency. When unsuccessful, challenging assumptions or making mistakes can sometimes damage your reputation. Tread carefully but proceed boldly.

By carefully choosing when and how to use agency, you may find you can have more success than failure. You will have more freedom and control on your job. You will reduce your overall anxiety and stress. And you will likely feel more fully engaged. All of this is good for you and your organization.

Men Abusing Power vs. Men Manning Up

September 28, 2018

The allegations against and removal of powerful men in entertainment, politics and the media has sparked increased attention on the issue of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Men abusing power in the workplace isn’t new, of course, but other men manning up to defend women seems to be especially lacking.

The unfolding drama that is Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court is reminiscent of the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings 27 years ago. That event was followed by the so-called “year of the woman” in 1992. But little has changed with regard to the way many men in power treat women.

Yes, the recent #MeToo movement created a stir and helped remove powerful men such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly from Fox News, Travis Kalanick from Uber, Charlie Rose from PBS and CBS, and Harvey Weinstein from The Weinstein Company. Most recently, comedian Bill Cosby—once referred to as “America’s Dad”—was sentenced for three to 10 years in prison for his sexual misconduct.

On the other hand, comedian Louis C.K., who admitted to sexual misconduct of five women and fallen out of favor, has recently staged a comeback. Charlie Rose reportedly was in discussions with regard to starring in a show where he would interview other high profile men brought down by the #MeToo movement. And, of course, the current President of the United States has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women, yet continues to serve.

In any workplace, as long as there is a huge imbalance of men to women in leadership positions, a lack of equal pay for equal work, and the minimizing of sexual harassment claims, we cannot have a safe, equitable and thriving work environment.

According to a recent poll conducted by Pew Research Center regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, of the 6,251 people surveyed, a majority of men (55%) and nearly half of women (47%) said that “the recent developments have made it harder for men to navigate workplace interactions.”

But when it comes to sexual misconduct in the workplace, it shouldn’t be difficult to navigate workplace interactions. It is simply about respect and treating others the way you would expect to be treated—regardless of gender.

The Equality Act of 2010 defines sexual harassment as “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.” This includes indecent or suggestive remarks, unwanted touching, requests or demands for sex and the dissemination of pornography.

Though there may be some cases of misunderstanding, the bottom line is demonstrating basic respect for the other person. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. And treating women in the workplace no worse than you would treat your mother, sister or daughter.

As someone who regularly encourages men and women to tweak their behavior in order to show up as better leaders, I know changing behavior is difficult. It takes concentrated effort that needs to be continually monitored and applied. Changing behavior also takes a network of others to make the most progress as well as maintain accountability. This network of other people can encourage positive steps and attest to whether there’s improvement or not.

And this is where other men come in. If there is sexual harassment in any workplace, it seems unlikely that no other male colleagues are aware of it. And because far too many men look the other way or fail to speak up, sexual harassment continues unabated in many of today’s workplaces. In the same way women are reluctant to speak up for fear of repercussions with regard to their careers, so too appear to be many men.

It takes courage to stand up to a bully. It takes courage to speak out against a fraternity of colleagues. And it takes enormous courage to call out one’s boss. But by not speaking up, standing up, and calling out sexual harassment, you are complicit in its continuation.

We live at a time far removed from a “Mad Men” workplace, but until all men begin to hold themselves, their colleagues and leaders accountable, little will change will be made for bringing true equality for women in the workplace.

As Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono said recently with regard to men in this country: “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”

Knowing What You Know

September 14, 2018

In the workplace as in life, accurate information enables you to make good decisions. We collect and analyze data like never before in order to determine when and who to hire, what to sell, where to invest, how to allocate resources, and many other business decisions.

However, when we take opinions as facts or make assumptions rather than A/B test assumptions, we are more apt to make bad decisions.

It’s astounding with all the information available to us, we are so often misled into believing false information. The internet is a great tool, but when it is used merely to reinforce our assumptions, we are using it ineffectively.

Someone should develop an app that would instantly fact check our statements as we make them, so we could—at least in theory—immediately correct ourselves. This would certainly keep inaccurate information from remaining in our heads and spreading to others.

In Factfulness, global health professor Hans Rosling presents 13 multiple choice fact-based questions about our world that, on average, chimpanzees score more accurately than most people around the world. This includes teachers, eminent scientists, investment bankers, corporate executives, journalists and senior political decision makers.

Rosling discovered that chimpanzees are not smarter than educated humans, but that “actively wrong knowledge” make us score so poorly. He determined that people simply have a worldview that is outdated and yet persists. His book lists ten instincts that distort our perspective, one of which is in the way we consume media—where fear currently rules.

“If it bleeds it leads,” was the mantra back when I studied journalism years ago. That notion is still relevant today as the news is primarily negative and therefore we rarely learn when things are improving or generally positive. This may also explain why so many Americans believe violent crime is higher than ever before when, in fact, though there’s been a slight uptick recently, on average it’s been dropping for the past 30 years.

And fear is extremely powerful: it sells newspapers, encourages us to click on links, buy things we may not need, and elect politicians to high office.

The state of journalism in the internet age is focused on being fast rather than accurate, on click-worthy and titillating rather than thoughtful and reflective, and on providing raw data rather than knowledgeable content. With so many pundits presenting alternative facts, politicians claiming fake news, and many media outlets providing opinion masquerading as news, we owe it to ourselves to be more careful and selective on what we choose to trust.

“If we want to be able to tell what’s real and what’s not, we must learn to see through the haze of virtual unreality that’s settling around us, says Charles Seife, in his book Virtual Unreality. He makes a strong case for why we need to be ever vigilant for how we understand the world around us. “We must change our relationship with information, becoming more skeptical and more cynical, and arm ourselves with powerful tools to allow us to interrogate dubious facts. And we have to be willing to spend the time to do it.”

In the workplace this requires challenging those assumptions we regularly rely upon to make big decisions. It means checking multiple sources before taking action. And it means scrutinizing from where and who is providing the information.

“As our information sources tailor themselves to our prejudices, this means eschewing the chatter that reinforces our preexisting beliefs and seeking out ones that challenge us,” writes Seife. “And above all, it means that we must accept that the rules are changing, and learn how to see the world differently than we did just a few years ago.”

In order to rise above the level of chimpanzees in our decision-making, we need to take greater responsibility and resist the impulse to take information as fact. We should question our assumptions and not be afraid to change those assumptions as needed. And we must be skeptical and cautious in order to make the right business decisions.

Sharpen the Saw to Keep Your Leadership Edge

August 27, 2018

Staying Mentally Fit

With the approach of a new school year, I wanted to explore the importance of continual learning in order to maintain your leadership edge. This is about sharpening the saw to stay mentally fit.

In Stephen Covey’s classic leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number seven is Sharpen the Saw. The analogy he describes is that of the woodcutter who is sawing for several days straight and becoming less and less productive. The process of cutting dulls the blade, and the solution is to periodically sharpen the saw.

In this particular habit, Covey discusses renewing the four dimensions of our nature that include, the physical, social/emotional, spiritual and mental. All of them are important, of course, but it is this last one where I want to focus.

Keeping mentally sharp means staying on top of not only important daily news and information, but also studying thought leaders on any subject relevant to your business in order to continue growing your leadership capacity.

Learning Should be a Way of Life

All too often people choose to stop investing the time and energy to further their learning once they’ve finished formal education. It’s as if now that they’ve acquired the degree and found a job, there is no longer the need to continue the process of learning. But learning should be a way of life not a goal one can expect to ever complete.

Successful leaders stay on top because they keep learning. This is an intentional act, which requires discipline, curiosity and the humility of the “beginner’s mind.”

What I’ve found in my study of leadership is that the best leaders are those who are driven to learn throughout their careers. This can be found in many ways, such as:

  • Read lots of books. The best CEOs read on average four to five books a month while the average person reads only two to three each year. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, Mark Cuban are all voracious leaders who make time to read every day.
  • Get training or coaching. There isn’t any leader who couldn’t become a better communicator, presenter, motivator or listener. Those who want to improve these and other skills are the ones who seek out training or coaching.
  • Hold back opinions. When leaders have an idea before a meeting, the best are able to hold back on presenting them until everyone else has had a chance to weigh in. They are more interested in bringing the best ideas forward regardless of whether it is their own.
  • Ask the right questions. In the course of trying to determine the right decision, it is not so much talking about the challenges and the opportunities as it is asking the right questions of the right people to learn how best to move forward. The best leaders recognize their role is asking the right questions at the right time.
  • Listen really well. The best leaders don’t just ask the right questions, they also take the time to hear what is spoken and continue probing for what is not yet said. At a time when people are expected to get to the point quickly, sometimes simply asking “and what else?” can bring forth the most important things to consider.
  • Remain open to new ideas. The older I get the more I realize how little I really know. There is an overwhelming amount of information out there and this requires a certain humility for continued intellectual growth. The best leaders are those who are open to what they do not know and remain curious to know more.

Learning began with your first breadth as a newborn and it should remain your mindset throughout life. This is because only through lifelong learning can you continually sharpen the saw to attain and keep your intellectual edge.

Manager as Coach

August 16, 2018

Making progress at something personally meaningful is the most powerful and motivating condition you can have at work. As a manager in charge of others, you should develop your coaching skills in order to help them experience this progress.

According to research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching. And all managers—like directors and senior executives—are now expected to coach their direct reports.

However, while 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training, according to research in 2006 from the leadership development firm BlessingWhite, only 23 percent of those being coached thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. Ten percent stated that the coaching they were getting was actually having a negative effect.

Clearly there’s a need to improve the quality of coaching training if managers want their coaching of others to be effective.

Managers may think they are coaching when they are simply teaching and advising. Or they may use the term “coaching” loosely, such as in describing any interaction with employees.

Coaching skills that are directive include teaching, providing feedback and offering suggestions. Non-directive coaching skills are about asking the right questions and listening. This non-directive approach with coaching is more challenging because it is about helping the individual solve his or her own problem.

Busy managers may find it hard to use non-directive skills as it takes longer and requires more patience. However, effective coaching requires exactly this in order to help employees develop the self-confidence and ability to solve problems on their own.

Another essential element to coaching is adopting a different mindset. Rather than be the natural problem solver that you are to get things done quickly, it’s important to let go of your assumptions, slow down and seek to understand the other’s perspective.

Ask probing questions that encourage your employee to explain the situation, the desired outcome and the potential steps for getting there. Learn to listen really well so you can encourage him or her and ask clarifying questions at the right time. Because when you ask good questions, your employee is empowered to believe he or she has the ability to find the answer. In addition, this employee will be more committed to the solution and more likely to fully implement it.

GROW

The GROW Model can be an effective and simple framework for structuring a coaching conversation. This model was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. The GROW acronym stands for:

 

  • Goal – Determine a SMART Goal that your employee is looking to develop. Ask probing questions to help determine if this is in fact the right goal for this person at this time.
  • Current Reality – Ask your employee to describe the situation. Questions can include: What is happening now (who, what, when, how)? What steps have you taken so far?
  • Options (or Obstacles) – Explore what to do next, but let him or her speak before offering your ideas. Ask: What else could you do? What are the pros and cons of that?
  • Will (or Way Forward) – This is about motivation, commitment and accountability. Ask: How will you remain motivated? When can we review your progress?

 

It’s important to follow these in succession in order for the model to be most effective. And remember to maintain this as a conversation so you can continue to build trust and learning is most likely to take place.

Finally, coaching should be done as a normal part of your interactions with direct reports. Look for coaching opportunities when he or she comes to you with an issue or problem to be solved. Instead of helping to solve the problem, help the individual learn to solve it on their own as way towards making progress on something meaningful to them.

Developing the non-directive skills of asking the right questions and listening well, altering your mindset and using the GROW Model will help you build your coaching skills as a manager.

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

July 12, 2018

On any given workday I find myself continually distracted because I’m multitasking—constantly switching from one task to another: writing an email while listening to the radio, answering a phone call while responding to a text, thinking about a particular client issue while the kids bicker in the background.

It’s not unusual for me to have five browser windows open and I’m often reading three or more books at any given time. And, as someone who works out of a home office, there’s the dog, the doorbell, and various other interruptions.

Little wonder it’s so difficult to remain focused on the task at hand. With the implied urgency of the text alert, the phone ringing, the dog barking, what is urgent has surpassed what is important. And that is a huge problem.

Turns out it is possible to maintain focus if you can sort through what is important and urgent. Then decide what can be planned out, what can be delegated to others, and what can be dropped because it is neither urgent or important.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important,” according to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This quote has evolved into what is called the Eisenhower Box.

The most productive people I know and admire are not those who are super busy, but those who are super focused. Their ability to tune out the noise in order to concentrate on what is most important is truly remarkable and admirable.

These are people who are disciplined to make the time and space for important and urgent things. They schedule when to do the important yet not necessarily urgent work and they follow up on it. They are willing and able to delegate that which is urgent, yet not important for them to do themselves. And they are people who eliminate tasks that are not important or urgent.

Years ago I read Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. I also learned that multitasking actually prevents us from being truly productive. Nevertheless, it is rare that I make the time and clear the space for truly focused work. When I do, however, I am rewarded with the accomplishment of completing urgent and important things. This takes a great deal of discipline to maintain.

No matter what you do for a living and who employs you, it is the important and urgent work where you need to focus your time and energy. To do this it’s necessary to filter out that which you can decide when to do later, delegate what others can do for you, and delete whatever is unnecessary because it is neither important or urgent.

Being Busy vs. Being Productive

I recently put into place a plan for those things that are important yet not urgent such as responding to emails, writing blog posts and walking the dog. As an independent consultant, it’s a bit more difficult for me to delegate, nevertheless, I now enlist family and friends to share in the responsibility for urgent tasks in my personal life. These include shuttling the kids, shopping for and preparing meals, and planning trips. And I’ve dropped my Facebook account, greatly reduced my internet browsing, and refrained from obsessively consuming news.

All of these have enabled me the time and space for work that is truly important and urgent. Of course, it takes discipline to maintain this and there’s a tendency to retreat back to other tasks because it can be very satisfying to be busy and to check off accomplishments.

The important and urgent work is often harder. It’s like work that is strategic versus tactical. Strategy is much more important, yet less likely to be appreciated and satisfying because the results and rewards are not immediately apparent. Tactical work is more tangible and evident to ourselves and others. Delayed gratification is necessary for strategic work.

If you want to be more productive, you need to first determine what things are important and urgent. Then by deciding, delegating and dropping the rest, you will find that you have created the time and space for the important and urgent work.

Stop being so busy that you are unable to focus on what is urgent and important in order to be most productive.

Women in Leadership

June 21, 2018

Though some may want to deny it, men and women are judged differently when it comes to obtaining leadership roles in the workplace. This judgment is due to many reasons, but confirmation bias, a preference for promotional skills, and the acceptance of risk-taking and certainty in men but not in women all may play a role. Both men and women need to help change this.

According to the Center of American Progress, although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, they lag substantially behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions. Consider:

  • Just 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs are women.
  • Women represent 20 percent of boards of directors in these companies.
  • Only 20 percent of the U.S. Congress is represented by women.
  • Though the U.S. ranks first in women’s educational attainment on the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index of 144 countries, it ranks 26th in women’s economic participation and opportunity and 73rd in women’s political empowerment.

Women have outnumbered men on college campuses in the U.S. since 1988. They earned at least one-third of law degrees since 1980 and accounted for one-third of medical school students by 1990. Yet they have not moved up to positions of prominence and power in America to be commensurate with these statistics.

In a broad range of fields, women in leadership positions, top leadership positions—as equity law partners, medical school deans and corporate executives—remains stuck at 10 to 20 percent.

So why does this inequality persist? Three things to consider:

Confirmation Bias
According to a recent New York Times article titled “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?”, researchers found that when adults were asked to draw a picture of a leader, both men and women drew the leader as a man.

Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, found that when we “process information through the lens of stereotype” our interpretation may be “consistent with stereotyped expectations rather than objective reality.” People who are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile will be more likely to notice leaders who continually fit that same profile. Dasgupta says this is how the self-reinforcing confirmation bias cycle works.

The more we repeat a false narrative of leadership as more masculine in our workplace, education, media, parenting and daily life, the more this perception persists. It is up to each of us then to recognize when we are promulgating this confirmation bias and resist it.

Promotional Skills
“Managing a team superbly ultimately proves you have great skills as a manager,”
says executive coach Carlos Martin. “But building strong outside networks is a promotional skill aimed at getting recognition for the larger organization. So while women are honing their management skills and sending the message that they’re wonderful managers, their male colleagues are busy building promotional skills and sending the message that they’re terrific promoters.”

Those in positions of power often see these promotional skills as more important for the organization as a whole and therefore those exhibiting them are more worthy of a leadership role. We could debate the qualities of management vs. leadership, but it’s clear that those in positions of power need to recognize these management skills as foundational to leadership. And it is equally clear that women need to accept these promotional skills as an important leadership quality, and seek to further develop them.

Risk-Taking & Certainty
Martin also found through psychometric surveys and coaching data suggesting that among those at the executive level, men are more likely to be rewarded for daring and risk-taking, while their women counterparts are more likely to be rewarded for precision and correctness.

And a study at the Harvard Business School titled “Who Gets Heard and Why” found that women are more likely than men to downplay their certainty when they speak. Many women adopted this habit, since certainty is often interpreted as arrogance in women.

Women tend to fear getting tagged with this trait with good reason as women perceived as arrogant are often viewed in highly negative terms, whereas arrogance in men is often interpreted with confidence and boldness. Is it possible for us to encourage women to speak with certainty without attaching arrogance to it?

Whether it’s confirmation bias, the preference for promotional skills, or seeing risk-taking and certainty as positives for men alone, we continue to undermine efforts for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles.

Research has shown that, when being considered for a promotion, women are more likely to be evaluated based on their contribution, while men are more likely to be evaluated based on their potential. This notion of potential is, of course, nebulous and highly subjective often resulting in a less qualified man getting the job.

My own daughter enters college next fall and plans to major in a male-dominated field of study. My hope is that as she proves herself worthy in obtaining her bachelor’s degree, she will enter the workplace four years from now with equal opportunities for leadership. And that her gender will not diminish her skills and expertise in order to reach her full potential.

Leadership and the To-Don’t List

May 9, 2018

At some point in our careers we have to face the fact that it may not be our lack of skills, experience or overall accomplishments, but specific behaviors that may prevent us from getting promoted to a higher position.

What often defines those who are able to rise to the ranks of leadership is the self-awareness to recognize how certain behaviors are holding them back and the courage to do something about them. Though these behaviors may have helped you get to where you are, they may be the very things holding you back from going further.

It’s not so much what you do, but what you need to stop doing, according to leadership coach and author Marshall Goldsmith.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” according to Goldsmith and Mark Reiter in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

And changing one’s behavior is extremely difficult. Consider new year’s resolutions, exercise commitments and diets that don’t lead to successful outcomes.

As a leadership coach, I work with those in—or hoping to reach—leadership positions, and most often it is not a lack of business or technical skills, but certain behaviors that are holding them back. And often it is not so much things they aren’t doing, but things they need to stop doing.

The great management consultant and author Peter Drucker said: We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend nearly enough time teaching them what to stop.

In every performance review, employees should learn what they are seen as doing well and should continue doing; what they are not yet doing and should begin doing; and finally what they are doing, but should stop doing. For whatever reason, this last one often gets left off unless the behaviors are especially egregious.

This gets us to the To Don’t list. Unlike the To-Do list, the To Don’t list should include behaviors you need to stop doing as they are undermining your performance and your ability to grow in your leadership potential. This list should certainly contain items brought up in your performance review because they are the most obvious to your supervisor. But they may not be as obvious to your supervisor or called out in a way that can be helpful to you.

One way to compile this To Don’t list would be to review feedback from performance reviews, 360 assessments, and other ways you have been evaluated. Look for themes and consider not simply dismissing those items that you don’t consider important to change.

Take for example sarcasm. This is a trait that can come across to many as funny and perhaps lighten the mood in certain situations. Sarcasm is actually a passive-aggressive form of communication that can undermine trust. If your identity is associated with sarcasm, you might consider how this may undermine your ability to be seen as a leader.

Though you may claim that sarcasm or another behavior is just who you are and can’t be that bad if it’s gotten you this far. Consider that certain traits that may not have been a problem in getting to this point are actually preventing you from rising higher because leadership has different demands and requires different behaviors.

This can be things like speaking instead of listening, commanding instead of inspiring, making excuses instead of owning up, or clinging to the past rather than letting go that prevent would-be leaders from rising to the C-suite.

It’s worth taking the time to make your To Don’t list and treat it as importantly as you do your To Do list. First identify and write down those behaviors you wish to change. Then focus on changing them. And in the same way you are more likely succeed with your exercise or diet, enlist others to provide encouragement, support and hold you accountable.

When Saying No Gets You to Yes

April 17, 2018

Recently I helped my daughter choose an elective class for high school and when I suggested drawing, she said that although she likes to draw, she’s not very good at it. The fact that my 13-year-old is already doubting her creative abilities is disheartening enough, but it got me thinking about how important it is to say yes to things that may intimidate or scare us, especially when we are young. Read more

The Need for Moral Leadership

March 30, 2018

Every leader faces crossroad moments where he or she must choose between the most expedient, popular and/or profitable versus what can only be labeled as the morally correct choice. Far too often, however, leaders choose the former.

Take for example Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose company recently admitted that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that worked on behalf of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, misused Facebook users’ personal information gathered to target U.S. voters.

When Zuckerberg first learned of the data breach and was told Cambridge Analytica deleted the information of these 50 million users, why did he simply accept this on faith rather than verify with a thorough audit?

Facebook has seen a barrage of criticism for its failure to protect user data, the #DeleteFacebook movement continues to grow and their stock plunged 18 percent this week.

Instead of doing the right thing when he first learned third party companies were misusing user information, Zuckerberg said little and left the public wondering if Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs mentality means his company should no longer be trusted.

WIRED magazine’s Jessi Hempel recently wrote: “If Zuckerberg wants us to believe now that his company is not vulnerable, he must shore up trust in himself as an individual. It’s his only way forward.”

However, as the saying goes, trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair. Why would Zuckerberg or the leader of any organization risk a breach of trust?

Doing the morally correct thing requires looking beyond the expedient, popular or profitable when those are in contrast with what is considered the right thing to do. This requires putting people before profits. It requires putting customers before shareholders. It requires working in the best interest of those you serve. And it requires courage.

Ultimately, a moral leader is someone who leads to serve. What distinguishes moral leaders from ordinary leaders is that these leaders prioritize other peoples’ needs.

Yet leaders often find it hard to exercise moral agency due to the often ambiguous and conflicting expectations of the stakeholders to whom they answer.

Corporate leaders are too often judged primarily on quarterly earnings rather than the long term viability of the company. This hyper-focus on the near term to satisfy Wall Street is often at odds with building a sustainable corporation that delivers customer value and a desirable workplace.

Even non-profit leaders can get sidetracked if their mission is no longer in sync with the people they serve. Executive Directors are expected to provide greater outcomes with fewer resources, while board members challenge them to cut corners further.

And due to minimal regulation on money in politics, our representatives in government cannot be counted on to serve in our best interests when those with a louder voice (i.e., more financial contributions) will always have their interests served first.

It used to be that when leaders were caught lying there was a huge outcry resulting in severe consequences. Maybe due to the fact that the current President of the United States tells on average 5.5 lies every single day we have become immune to or at least more accepting of liars. The President has even convinced his followers that they should no longer believe anything because it’s all fake news.

Perhaps there’s reason for hope: At Harvard Business School, professor Sandra Sucher teaches a course that draws on the inspiration of literary and historical figures such as Machiavelli, Conrad, Shackleton and Achebe in order to encourage greater empathy and understanding. The novels, plays and biographies students read and discuss provide rich examples of moral dilemmas with a larger context than business case studies can provide.

Tylenol Extra-Strength cyanide-laced capsules resulted in the deaths of seven people in the Chicago-area back in 1982.  Johnson & Johnson chairman, James Burke, immediately formed a seven-member strategy team and his guidance on the strategy was first, “How do we protect the people?” and second “How do we save this product?” The order of these priorities was paramount to the successful future of the product and company.

People before product. People before profits. Moral leadership is about keeping these things in the right order.

Organizational Resiliency: Failing Forward

March 13, 2018

Emphasizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses is common not only for individuals, but for organizations as well. A relentless focus on success is certainly easier and more enjoyable, but at what cost is the unwillingness to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes?

Every individual and organization regularly fails. It is inevitable and it is absolutely necessary on the pathway to growth. Far too many of us, however, refuse to learn from or even acknowledge these mistakes or misfires.

Yet those individuals who do accept and take accountability for their weaknesses and mistakes are much more likely to learn how to overcome them. And organizations who are able to see the value that comes from acknowledging them and being accountable for them are likely to become more resilient and thrive.

“To be resilient after failures, we have to learn from them,” write Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. “We’re too insecure to admit mistakes to ourselves or too proud to admit them to others. Instead of opening up, we get defensive and shut down. A resilient organization helps people overcome these reactions by creating a culture that encourages individuals to acknowledge their missteps and regrets.”

Creating a culture that is not only willing to discuss mistakes and failures, but actively encourages the organization to open up and truly learn from them is one that is resilient. And this organizational resilience is at the heart of learning.

“When it’s safe to talk about mistakes, people are more likely to report errors and less likely to make them,” write Sandberg and Grant. “Yet typical work cultures showcase successes and hide failures.”

To highlight successes and hide weaknesses may make sense when individuals are applying for a job or organizations are trying to appeal to customers and shareholders. However, when it comes to effectively operating inside the organization, the need to acknowledge our failures and learn from them is profoundly important.

“Our observations have led us to believe that, just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too can organizations develop a culture of resilience,” according to George S. Everly, Jr. in his 2011 article “Building a Resilient Organizational Culture” in Harvard Business Review.

“While human resilience may be thought of as a personality trait, in the aggregate, groups, organizations, and even communities can learn to develop a ‘culture of resilience’ which manifests itself as a form of ‘psychological immunity’ to, or the ability to rebound from, the untoward effects of adversity.”

Everly concludes that self-efficacy or the belief in one’s agency and the ability to be a catalyst for change along with optimism can form a powerful framework for building a resilient organization.

As one former Google executive explained to me, what they try to do at Google is rather than simply fail fast, it’s important to learn early and often. The anonymous quote comes to mind: Failure is not an option. It’s a privilege for those who try.

Organizational leaders must demonstrate to their employees that because failure is inevitable, it must be acknowledged and accepted. Failure and mistakes are only detrimental when they are repeated because learning did not take place.

Next time you make a mistake or fail in the workplace, make a point of publicly acknowledging it, then state what you learned and how you will ensure it won’t happen again. Though this will take courage and demand making yourself vulnerable, you will make it safer for others to do so in the future. You will also undoubtedly rise in your stature as a leader because you are doing what’s right for your professional growth as well as the growth of your organization.

The Gift of Being Heard

March 1, 2018

In this age of extraordinary technological advances and accelerating change, our ability to effectively communicate has diminished severely. This is partly because we are not equally focused on sending and receiving messages. And we don’t listen in a way that demonstrates that the other is being heard.

Despite the many powerful ways we have to connect, our ability to do this well has suffered. Think about how often you text when you really should talk. Or you choose email when you should call because your message requires some back and forth discussion.

Every new technology has to find its ideal purpose and this usually takes some trial and error. Remember when people faxed in their pizza orders? Just because we can text or email, doesn’t mean we should use them constantly and expect success in our communication.

As I wrote in a previous post, these “asynchronous communication vehicles have become the default way for far too many of us to interact with others.” Texting, emailing, and tweeting are all very effective for sending information. But when it comes to topics that are sensitive, require establishing trust or back-and-forth discussion, using the phone or meeting face-to-face is best.

We have become so focused on sending our perspectives, thoughts, feelings, selfies and the latest emojis that we are no longer as receptive to the other side of the communication equation: receiving. While we may feel confident that the content of our message was received, perhaps not the full sentiment.

However, when we can equally focus on the receiving end of a message, we can begin to engage in meaningful dialogue. We can enable true reciprocity. We can immediately see and/or hear the impact our message had on the receiver. And we can immediately respond in a way that effectively continues to move the conversation forward.

When you experience a communication breakdown in a message you initiate, it could be due to the receiver being confused or misunderstanding your intention because you’ve chosen the incorrect medium. If the receiver of your message can’t accurately interpret what you intended, the communication can fail—often miserably.

One reason is that we make a lot of assumptions in our interactions with others, and these assumptions often get in the way of successful communication. With texting and emailing, assumptions are more challenging to combat due to the fact that verifying them requires more back and forth that can seem to slow down the conversation. The nuance of effective communication—even for the most gifted writers—is often missing in text-only communication.

Being a good receiver in communication means you provide the sender with the gift of being heard—very difficult to do via text and email.  And this gift is all too rare these days. If you are able to give it to others, you will be appreciated and likely gain respect from your colleagues and affection from your family and friends.

One of the benefits of calling or talking face-to-face is you can immediately check on assumptions in order to eliminate any anxiety or confusion. You are also likely to pick up non-verbal clues based on tone of voice, facial expressions and body language that can help you determine whether there is congruence between what is being said and how they look and act when saying it.

Don’t underestimate your intuitive power of reading the sender of the message. You are able to pick up many things above and beyond the words. And this is missing in your texts and emails—no matter how many emojis and photo attachments may be included.

Communicating better requires you to become a better listener. This means really focusing on what the other person is trying to communicate. Whenever possible, ensure discussions that warrant it are face-to-face or by phone, and then provide the other person the gift of being heard.

Success in Difficult Conversations

February 8, 2018

In our work lives as in our personal lives we encounter situations that demand initiating difficult conversations. These conversations are not easy, but shouldn’t be avoided because that can often make things worse.

As much as the conflict avoider in us may want to run in the other direction, those who are able to courageously confront the situation are likely to push through the discomfort and grow from it. In addition, the relationship that is demanding the difficult conversation will most likely move forward.

A difficult conversation results when two or more people have: 1) a difference of opinion, perspective, needs or wants; 2) feelings or emotions are strong; 3) consequences or the stakes are high for at least one person. When you’re in a difficult conversation, you may find:

  • There is little safety between participants
  • Emotions are defining the conversation
  • Very little listening is taking place
  • Participants are aiming for a win/lose scenario
  • Participants may be playing a role: victim, aggressor, martyr, etc.

Obviously, this can result in a highly stressful environment. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Use the following steps to be at your best when initiating a difficult conversation:

Stay Calm
Breathe. Try to be present of what you are feeling and what it is you want. If possible, try to determine what the other person may be feeling and wanting. And when you begin the conversation, be certain to communicate your intent up front in order to provide safety for the other person.

Shift Your Perspective
Rather than focus on how difficult the conversation is going to be, try to think of it as a constructive conversation. By initiating this constructive conversation, you are demonstrating the value the relationship has for you. Keep in mind that this is an investment of your time and emotional energy that will benefit you as well as the relationship.

Make a Plan
Have a clear idea of the points you want to make, but don’t write out a script. You should be able to summarize both your perspective as well as the other’s. If you are uncertain of the former, you need to figure it out before initiating the conversation. If you are uncertain of the latter, you should provide ample opportunity at the beginning of the conversation to better understand this. Be careful of assumptions you are making as these can so often derail any conversation, and are especially dangerous when emotions are high.

Prepare to Actively Listen
This means listening to the other person in a way that ensures he or she feels heard. Being an active listener means you make a conscious effort to truly hear what the other person is saying—in their words as well as their body language. Practice holding off thinking about how to respond or interrupting until you have thoroughly heard what they are saying.

Be Compassionate and Demonstrate Empathy
Consider how it may feel to be on the other end of this conversation. Be respectful while they take in what may be very difficult for them to hear. Convey in your words, tone and body language that you truly care for how the other person feels about what it is you are saying. Try to get comfortable with the awkward silence that may result.

Seek a Win-Win Conclusion When Possible
In most cases a successful difficult conversation doesn’t result in a winner and a loser. Therefore, seek out an amicable resolution to the conflict in a way that is satisfying to both parties. This is not always possible, of course, but even when you have to convey bad news such as a job dismissal, see if there is a way to soften the news. Perhaps it is simply providing information about out-placement services, severance package, a solid reference, etc.

Reflect & Learn
When the conversation is over, take a moment to reflect on what went well and what not so well. What could you have said better or differently? There are certainly things outside of your control in a heated conversation and you will need to maintain your boundaries. Don’t take on guilt for the other person’s negative reaction to your news. This requires courage and you will likely be fortified the next time you need to have a difficult conversation.

In order to have a constructive difficult conversation, the steps above should help you navigate them more successfully. In most cases, your efforts are likely to improve the relationship and build your skill at navigating future difficult conversations.

“Twenty years of research involving more than 100,000 people reveals that the key skill of effective leaders, teammates, parents and loved ones is the capacity to skillfully address emotionally and politically risky issues,” according to the authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.

Start by rethinking your difficult conversation as more of a constructive conversation. Remember that whether it is with your family members, friends or co-workers you are directly confronting an issue that has stifled the relationship. Though it is not easy to do, the result of your efforts—in most cases—will move the relationship forward and build-up a powerful skill in you as a leader.

More (Positive) Feedback Please

January 11, 2018

Feedback. We all want it and perhaps those in the Millennial generation crave it more than most. But is anything less than positive feedback really appreciated and effective at bringing out our best performance?

Years ago I wrote a blog post titled Six Tips to Successfully Deliver Employee Feedback where I suggested “. . . if we are doing something not so well, we want to know what this is and especially how to correct it. Don’t underestimate a person’s level of resilience because such feedback loops are vital to their continued growth.”

But in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article titled Negative Feedback Rarely Leads to Improvement by Paul Green, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, found that critical feedback from coworkers drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would provide more positive reviews. That is, when feedback was what they term “disconfirming,” the test subjects would seek others to provide “confirming feedback.”

Further, he found that when the relationship was discretionary—people didn’t have to work together—the person getting the negative feedback would just move away from that person or group. When the employees had to work together, however, the recipient of the negative feedback would look to connect with other people in the company in what they termed “shopping for confirmation.”

Negative feedback doesn’t provide the sustenance we need to enable us to maintain a positive view of ourselves, according to Green.

“The idea behind performance appraisals, and feedback in general, is that to grow and improve, we must have a light shined on the things we can’t see about ourselves,” says Green. “There’s an assumption that what motivates people to improve is the realization that they’re not as good as they think they are. But in fact, it just makes them go find people who will not shine that light on them. It may not be having the intended effect at all.”

What it comes down to is whether when receiving this critical feedback, the employee feels valued or not. Delivering the feedback sandwich of “here’s what you do well, here’s what you do not so well and keep up the good work” isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, it should be about ensuring that employees first and foremost feel secure knowing that they provide value and their contributions are generally positive. Then the employee is able to hear and respond appropriately to the critical information.

In my work as a consultant and leadership coach, I find so often it is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels they are valued by their manager, by their peers and by the company as a whole. And, ironically, conveying this appreciation of value to an employee costs the company nothing.

In some ways, this seems to further the argument that we should focus on maximizing strengths rather than minimizing weaknesses. But I think that would be short-sighted and reduce our ability to continue to grow and learn as we advance in our careers.

Regularly acknowledging and emphasizing the value employees provide means they may be much more open to hearing critical feedback. They may then be able to separate their job performance from who they are as individuals. Then they will be able to act on the feedback with a foundation of security that enables the courage to make necessary changes.

Breaking the Silence on Complicity

December 7, 2017

On the one hand we’ve seen the recent rise in naming complicit behavior, and on the other hand the rising response that this behavior will no longer be tolerated. Yet many of our leaders remain sitting on the sidelines. Why?

The word “complicit” was recently chosen as the word of the year by Dictionary.com citing the term’s renewed relevance in U.S. culture and politics. They also noted that a refusal to be complicit has also been “a grounding force of 2017.”

Their website defines complicit as “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having complicity.” According to Thesaurus.com, the opposite of complicit is clear, forthright and honest.

Two recent examples include an SNL skit involving Ivanka Trump, and outgoing Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s speech on the Senate floor where he told fellow Republicans regarding the President, “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end.”

Complicity was found not only in the political realm, but also in society’s role for contributing to climate change, normalizing of hate speech and supremacist groups, and the tacit enabling of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Time magazine’s person of the year in 2017 is “The Silence Breakers,” referring to those women who have courageously spoken out against perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace, and the global conversation they have started. Edward Felsenthal, Time’s editor in chief, said in an interview on the “Today” show recently that the #MeToo movement represented the “fastest-moving social change we’ve seen in decades, and it began with individual acts of courage by women and some men too.”

Tarana Burke created the “Me Too” movement many years ago, but it didn’t go viral until actress Alyssa Milano urged those following her on Twitter to use the hashtag #MeToo if they had experiences of sexual harassment.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning that it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Burke said in the same Today episode. “I think now the work really begins. The hashtag is a declaration. But now we’re poised to really stand up and do the work.”

The rise in the usage of the word “complicit” and American women’s courageous response in speaking out after acts of sexual harassment can serve as a catalyst towards positive change. We may one day look back at this time as a pivotal moment when leaders’ abhorrent behavior was no longer tolerated, and when powerful men across entertainment, media, politics and business were finally being held accountable.

So what are our leaders doing? Are they sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what the voters or customers decide? Are they following the advice of their crisis management consultants who tell them to hold off to see if this blows over before “getting ahead of the story.” Are they putting more pressure on their lawyers to ensure that their financial settlements hold up against future accusations?

Great leaders have integrity. They do not commit nor do they tacitly condone illegal acts and inappropriate behavior. And they speak out when they see wrong doing and stand up to their colleagues, coworkers, partners, friends and others to prevent such acts.

When others lie, deceive, cheat, mistreat women, or disparage innocent people, we must hold them accountable. This includes our bosses, colleagues, coworkers, friends and our elected officials not only for the acts themselves, but also for their complicity. And we must hold ourselves accountable as well.

Because that’s what leaders do. And whether we ourselves are leaders, want to become leaders, or just choose to follow other leaders, we must not be complicit in bad behavior.

An Attitude of Gratitude

November 21, 2017

Beyond football, eating a big meal, and gathering with extended family, Thanksgiving should be a time of, well, giving thanks. In that spirit, I want to express my gratitude for all that I am thankful for in my life.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my family, and the love and devotion they provide to help me be the best husband and father I can be. My wife and three children are the most important people in my life and, though I sometimes struggle to maintain the boundaries to honor this, I want them to know that I never forget they are my number one priority. I am also grateful to my mother, and my brothers and sisters—though we are scattered across the globe and span the political spectrum from Libertarian to Green Party—we share a common history and remain close in spirit if not in geography.

I am grateful for my friends, many of whom I have been lucky to count as such for more than thirty years. Though we are not always in sync in finding face time, I know I can count on them to keep me from falling out of touch and becoming mere “Facebook friends.” In particular, The 728 Club has been especially meaningful to me as our tradition of semi-annual adventures have sustained and fortified our steadfast friendship. I hope all my friends understand that, although I am not regularly in touch, I am grateful for the continued love and companionship they provide me.

I am grateful for my clients, who continually astound me in the growth they achieve by courageously taking behavioral risks to reach their professional goals. The satisfaction in my work is derived entirely by the level I can help them grow to reach their full potential. As an independent leadership coach and consultant, I measure my success not only by the amount of revenue I generate, but by the level of success I have in moving my clients forward. I am thankful for choosing to work with me, choosing to trust in me, and choosing to take the hard steps necessary to move forward in the growth of themselves and their teams.

I am also grateful for my failures. I know that I would not be the person I am today were I not to have failed and learned by the process. In my previous career, I was once fired from a job and was devastated. I felt the debilitating shame of not being good enough. This was the culmination of previous smaller failures, which ultimately led to some deep soul-searching with regard to who I was and who I wanted to be. In the end, I redirected my focus and embraced the messages I was given in order to redirect my career. The result is I moved beyond career and into what I consider to be my calling, which is so much more satisfying. According to author Eloise Ristad, “When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.”

I am grateful for my persistence and my patience. I am grateful for my resilience. And for following writer Anais Nin’s advice that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

I am grateful for learning to focus on abundance rather than scarcity. Grateful in embracing the somewhat paradoxical concept that true leadership requires the ability to be vulnerable. And learning that the three essentials of leadership are courage, clarity and humility.

Finally, I am grateful for you, my readers. I truly appreciate you reading these posts and hope you find value in them. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

(Precious) Time Management

November 9, 2017

There’s not enough time. Right? We’re all too busy in our personal and professional lives to squeeze in everything to make us feel happy and successful.

But what is sucking away our precious time and how much control do we actually have over it? Turns out the answers are: 1) distractions and 2) a lot.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about how to better maximize my time in order to accomplish more, reduce my stress, and increase my overall satisfaction in life. In this pursuit, I’ve read a couple of new books that help address this.

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less author Greg McKeown writes that the way of essentialism isn’t about getting more done in less time and it’s not about getting less done. Instead it’s about getting only the right things done and challenging the assumption of “we can have it all” and “I have to do everything” and replacing it with the pursuit of “the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.”

McKeown suggests the way of the essentialist requires doing less and doing it better, so you can make the highest possible contribution in your personal and professional life.

In Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport describes deep work as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that enables you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newport doesn’t argue that distraction is necessarily bad; instead he wants us to honor the massive benefits of focused attention.

This deep work, according to Newport, requires following four rules:

  1. Work deeply – The trend of open floorplans to engage greater collaboration and serendipitous encounters is helpful only when it includes a hub-and-spoke model where individuals can seclude themselves or their teams in areas to focus for regular long periods of uninterrupted time as well.
  2. Embrace boredom – Structure your time to reduce multitasking and your addiction to the little dopamine hits from reacting to text messages, emails, phone calls, etc. Consider an Internet Sabbath or digital detox in order to recharge yourself regularly.
  3. Quit social media – When you analyze the benefits you receive from using social media, many of us will find it is not really supporting our long term goals for productivity and happiness. Isn’t this virtual form of connection more anti-social anyway?
  4. Drain the shallows – Reduce the amount of shallow work you are currently doing that is not essential. Email is a big component and needs to be managed more effectively. Non-essential meetings are wasteful to individuals and companies. Schedule your entire day into 30 minute blocks and stick to this routine to help you focus on what’s important and eliminate much of the shallow work.

Now as a blogger who actively promotes this post via social media, I cannot justify fully quitting social media. However, I can choose to regulate how and when I interact with this tool. Simply calling social media a tool provides an important clarification regarding its overall value to me.

As an independent consultant, I should have the ability to take control over my time. But I also want to be responsive to my clients’ needs, react to new client requests, and be able to shift my schedule in order to accommodate shifts by others. On the personal side, like many of you, I have the usual demands and desires with regards to my family and friends that often run counter to my efforts to control my time.

Nevertheless, managing my time is entirely up to me and I can be successful if I choose to be intentional and disciplined. I suspect whether you work for yourself or someone else, you also have this opportunity to a large extent.

For me, managing my time effectively requires:

  • Maintain my priorities. The health and well-being of me and my family comes first. All my work and activities stem from what helps support these, and this means I can then choose how and when to attend to everything else.
  • Important and hard things first. I make time in the morning to work on the projects that require the most concentration and focus. I try to remove or delay distractions and less important tasks until later in the day.
  • 90-minute timeframes for focused work. Much like the importance of complete REM cycles when sleeping, a minimum of 90 minutes is required in order to go deep into focused attention. Keep away from multitasking as it undermines focus.
  • Take breaks to recharge. This can include the shallow work of writing and responding to emails and texts, taking phone calls as well as eating healthy meals, exercising, and chatting with co-workers.
  • Reduce web surfing and social media. In this age of distraction, we have the choice to either rule over the tools at our disposal or let them rule us. Judge for yourself whether time on these activities is helping or harming your ability to reach long term success and happiness.
  • Setting and maintaining boundaries. This is perhaps hardest for me as I want to say yes as often as possible. The trouble is I am undermining my effectiveness when I let people and projects permeate the important boundaries necessary for me to remain focused on one important thing at the expense of many other possibilities.

The older I get the more precious time becomes. I want to make the most of it and therefore I choose to be more intentional and disciplined about my time. I hope you can too.

Leaders Who Lie

October 27, 2017

Leaders who lie do not deserve our allegiance. The only reason they are able to rise and then remain in leadership positions is because those who follow them refuse to hold them accountable. And this lack of accountability undermines the overall effectiveness of the very people and the organization they serve.

Untruths. False statements. Stretching the truth. Misspeaking. Not entirely correct. Alternative facts. Why does the news media so frequently use euphemisms for the lies leaders tell? A lie by any other name is still a lie.

Despite the efforts of expensive marketing campaigns, public relations specialists, spin doctors, and dishonest spokespeople, we need to resist the temptation to simply accept the lies for anything other than what they are: a conscious and deliberate effort to deceive.

Every time we purchase a product or service from an organization with a leader who lies, we are complicit in the behavior. When we choose to work for a leader who lies to his or her employees, vendors, customers or shareholders, we are also complicit. And when we vote for and donate to elect representatives who lie to our fellow citizens, we are complicit as well.

When we refuse to hold our leaders accountable for their lies, we deserve what we get.

Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake recently announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 declaring that he “will no longer be complicit or silent” in the face of the President’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior.  In his speech, Flake stated that Mr. Trump among other things has “flagrant disregard for truth and decency.”

The GOP largely shrugged at this announcement as well as statements by outgoing Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who accused Trump of serial lying and debasing the office of the presidency among other things.

The President of the United States of American currently tells five lies on average every single day. The tally is more 1,300 to this point in his term. And perhaps he is able to get away with it because he tells his followers what they want to hear: comforting lies rather than unpleasant truths.

False statements that are deliberately intended to deceive are lies, regardless of how often Sarah Huckabee Sanders serves up spin by saying “What the President meant by . . . “

“Trust is a function of two things: character and competence,” writes Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust. “Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.”

When we can’t trust our leaders it is due to their character and/or competence. And these two things are vital for us to be motivated to follow them.

Remaining silent or apathetic to lying leaders means they will continue to thrive. Holding them accountable will keep them from rising to or remaining in power. It’s entirely up to us.

Whether they lead an organization or a country, their effectiveness is undermined when they cannot be trusted. Those who are unwilling or unable to be honest with us deserve neither our respect nor loyalty.  Let’s not allow liars to be acceptable in leadership positions.

Courage When Leaders Abuse Power

October 11, 2017

Three prominent founder CEOs have recently been removed from their companies due to sexual misconduct. These men are Roger Ailes of Fox News, Travis Kalanick of Uber, and most recently Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company. This abuse of power must stop.

Ailes and Weinstein were actually removed only after major news outlets reported the misconduct, which had begun long before yet was stifled through financial settlements with victims. Kalanick was removed after mounting allegations that he did little to stop a workplace culture that allowed for sexual harassment.

There is no acceptable reason for sexual harassment or misconduct to exist in the workplace. Yet far too many men in positions of power continue to take advantage of women. To change, it will take not only the courage of women to speak up but, perhaps more importantly, the courage of men to challenge those in power.

The misuse of power is unacceptable and these leaders should be held accountable. And the people working around them should be more courageous in stopping it. While Ailes and Weinstein both had allegations of sexual misconduct for decades, their corporate boards hesitated to make changes earlier because they feared such dynamic leaders couldn’t be adequately replaced. They put profits before people.

“Such uncertainties may explain why boards often miss the moment when a founder’s comportment goes from a foible to a liability,” as writer John Foley points out in a recent New York Times article. “Once they do, the grubby handprints are hard to scrub away.”

And when we accept sexually aggressive behavior as simply “locker room talk,” it minimizes the emotional impact and enables the potential physical harm it can lead to. If the collective community doesn’t categorically reject the behavior, it can be perceived as tacitly condoned.

“The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar,” wrote actress Meryl Streep in a recent statement. “Each brave voice that is raised, heard and credited by our watchdog media will ultimately change the game.”

Women already feel a sense of guilt or shame when they are put into such a position. When other women and men try to ignore or normalize it, we continue to defer taking action. The fact is, sexual harassment never was acceptable back “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”

Little wonder that women are not adequately represented in leadership positions throughout politics and business. When men in positions of power continue to disrespect women there can be no parity. If we don’t collectively reject and condemn sexual harassment whenever it is seen, we will never get beyond the repression of women in the workplace.

Regarding Weinstein, Lena Dunham wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed article: “His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

She goes on to say that men need to take responsibility for this. It takes courage for the women who are victims to speak up and it takes courage from the men who remain silent. Because when you don’t speak up, you are complicit in the behavior.

Dunham is absolutely right in that we men need to hold our friends, co-workers and those in power over us accountable for the things they say and do in objectifying women. And we need to challenge their values, their language and their actions.

Let’s not sit idly by while powerful bullies take advantage of other people. Instead, stand up to the unfair and reprehensible behavior toward women in the workplace. When you see leaders abuse power by taking advantage of others, be courageous and speak out.

In the words of Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”